7 Causes of Noise When Turning the Steering Wheel

Some of the most frustrating of all vehicle-related issues are those pertaining to mysterious noises, which often tend to get louder as time passes. Issues of this type can be maddening, as motorists search eagerly for the source of such noises, often to no avail. This, in turn, only intensifies the frustration felt by all involved.

A vehicle’s steering system tends to be the source of many aggravating noises, which range from creaking to knocking, and everything in between.

The exact source of these noises often differs on a case by case basis, with certain sounds being significantly more difficult to pinpoint than others. Nonetheless, each noise signifies an underlying issue of its own.

Read on to learn more about the various noises that can occur when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel, as well as how to address each noise specifically.

Why You Hear Noise When Turning the Steering Wheel

woman driving hears noise

There are many different reasons that abnormal noises could be overheard when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel. The root cause of such noises often differs considerably, from one situation to the next.

Familiarizing yourself with the potential causes of such noises can prove extremely valuable when attempting to rectify the situation at hand, and return your vehicle to service.

The following are several of the most common sources of abnormal noise overheard when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel.

1. Power Steering Faults

Some of the most common noises overheard when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel are those related to the power steering system. These noises often take on a whining sound and are often caused by low power steering fluid or a restricted power steering filter.

On occasion, a faulty or damaged power steering rack can also emit a noticeable whine. A motorist should begin the diagnostic process by checking the level of fluid in their vehicle’s power steering fluid reservoir.

2. Poor Quality Power Steering Fluid

Though not as common as a general lack of power steering fluid, the use of cheap power steering fluid of insufficient quality can also cause similar symptoms to those listed here.

Similarly, the use of the wrong type or viscosity of power steering fluid can also lead to a host of secondary issues. Modern power steering systems feature rather tight tolerances and do not cope well with non-OEM equivalent fluids.

3. Aged Upper Strut Bearings

A vehicle’s upper strut bearings can cause considerable noise when worn to a significant degree. These bearings allow rotation at each front wheel-end location, during cornering.

However, these bearings wear with time and consistent exposure to the elements, causing a range of clunks and pops when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel, especially at low speeds. In severe cases, upper strut bearing wear can also lead to the onset of stiffness when cornering.

4. Worn Shocks/Struts

A vehicle’s shocks and struts are categorized as wear components, meaning that they require periodic replacement.

If not replaced in a timely manner, the condition of a vehicle’s shocks and struts can deteriorate to the point of emitting noise when cornering, or when traveling over uneven surfaces.

These noises often take on a squeaking, clicking, or clunking sound. Whenever this is heard, replacement of these key components is likely in-store.

5. Deteriorated Front End Bushings

A vehicle’s front end contains an array of individual steering system components, most of which incorporate one or more bushings into their design. With time, these bushings begin to fatigue, as a result of excessive wear and dry-rot.

Bushings of this nature can be found in a vehicle’s ball joints and tie rod ends, as well as various suspension components. Virtually all of these bushings can create a host of noise when worn beyond specification.

6. Steering Shaft Failures

A vehicle’s steering shaft contains one or more u-joints along its length. These u-joint(s) are intended to prevent binding within a vehicle’s steering shaft when articulated at a slight angle.

Unfortunately, these u-joints are prone to wear with time, often causing a noticeable clunking noise, as well as increased steering stiffness. Unlike many other conditions, these sounds can be replicated while stationary, by cutting a vehicle’s steering wheel to each stop or full lock position.

7. Fatigued Upper Steering Column Bearing

Though somewhat less common in nature than other failures on this list, a worn upper steering column bearing can also make its own fair share of noise.

This bearing plays a key role in eliminating unnecessary slop within a vehicle’s steering column while allowing the steering wheel itself to pivot smoothly. However, when worn significantly this bearing often produces a rubbing or roaring noise, as well as noticeable free-play in the steering wheel.

Is It Safe to Drive When the Steering Wheel Is Making Noise When Turning?

Generally, any noise heard when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel is indicative of an issue, of one type or another. Therefore, motorists should proceed with caution. This is especially true if you are unable to discern the source of the noise that has been overheard, as this leaves the matter of safety up in the air.

While certain noise producing issues can mean little, in terms of risk or impending component failure, others can just as easily foretell a potential hazard. For this reason, you must ask yourself if proceeding in route is worth the potential risk. At the very least, continued driving should be reserved to an absolute minimum.

In any event, the route cause of any abnormal sound that is emitted when turning a vehicle’s steering wheel should be diagnosed at the first available opportunity.

Doing so minimizes the chance of further issues, and mitigates most of the risk associated with driving a vehicle in this state. If you do not feel comfortable tackling such repairs yourself, contact a trusted automotive service center as soon as possible.


See Also5 Reasons Your Key is Stuck in the Ignition

Avatar photo

Leave a Comment